Yvonne Ncube — Bulawayo Bureau
A NATIONAL University of Science and Technology (Nust) student, Mr Lancelot Matange (24) has broken stereotypes that farming is for the older generations by taking up agricultureas a viable career option.
Through farming, which he started as a hobby, the young agriculture entrepreneur is generating income out of his agriculture project.
In 2020, Mr Matange set up AgroElite, a company that supplies different types of vegetables direct from his farm in Nyamandlovu, Umguza District in Matabeleland North province.
He has drip irrigation and has registered a company so that he can supply big companies and supermarkets that require a tax clearance certificate.
AgroElite is a start-up, which Mr Matange founded with the intention of supplying vegetables to Nust students in Selbourne, Riverside and other neighbouring suburbs.
"When I started AgroElite, I had discovered that students were forced to travel to the market in the city centre to buy vegetables. Establishing AgroElite was therefore an effort to address that challenge, but it has now grown into something that I never thought it would be," said Mr Matange.
Through the help of his friends Tatenda Maworera and Zvikomborero Mziti, the student has taken the farming hobby to greater heights.
Mr Matange, who developed a passion for farming at a tender age, said he grew up in a farming environment and believes agriculture plays a crucial role in terms of food security.
"I am very passionate about farming. I grew up on a farm at Daramombe Mission (Chivhu, Mashonaland East) and my father was the headmaster at that time. He would always feed us every year through the bumper harvest that he produced in a small area," he said.
"It was his hard work and passion in farming that inspired me to venture into farming."
Mr Matange, a civil engineering student, said after enrolling at Nust, his passion for farming was rekindled after moving into his aunt's place in Bulawayo.
"My aunt had several garden seeds in her pantry so I took the seeds and I planted them in the back yard garden. The idea was to supply vegetables at home and sell the surplus to Nust students around the area," he said.
"The response I got from students was overwhelming such that my aunts' backyard became too small. This meant that I had to look for a bigger piece of land.
Mr Matange approached a local priest who offered him more space near Nust and was later offered another piece of land in Nyamandlovu.
"After a certain priest gave me the green light to use his piece of land, I did more research on farming. I told my friend Panashe Kawodza about the idea and he helped me come up with the name AgroElite, which derives from my nickname Elite," he said.
"I have always wanted to become a farmer who is just different from others, a farmer who is innovative and I believe farming is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry."
Mr Matange said AgroElite has established online marketing platforms for his produce, which have proved to be a success.
"We are helping other farmers market their products in our online platforms at the same time generating income. My friends Zvikomborero and Tatenda have been helping me and I can say we are growing from strength to strength," he said.
Mr Matange urged his peers to venture into farming and generate income.
"I had the privilege to be attached at the Department of Irrigation in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development in Matabeleland North as a civil engineering student and the provincial irrigation officer Engineer Charles Makhula inspired me," he said.
"I have been exposed to designing all kinds of irrigation systems and hydraulics like centre pivots, sprinklers, horse reels and drip irrigation which is an advantage to our start-up."
AgroElite is using drip irrigation which does not use much water.
"We have started designing our own irrigation systems as well as offering such services to other farmers. AgroElite has also been doing a small project and we ask farmers about various aspects of farming in Zimbabwe so that we explore ways of improve the farming systems for the future generation," he said.
Mr Matange has since registered his company.
"I am very happy that the start-up has elevated and is now a recognised company. Since we are now a registered company, we are now capable of supplying big companies and supermarkets that demand tax clearance certificates. We are also supplying small restaurants and we are making an average of US$100 profit a week," he said.
Mr Matange's project comes at a time when President Mnangagwa is continuously urging youths to venture into farming. He has on several occasions said the agriculture sector is key enablers in which the vision of an upper middle-income society by 2030 should be built on.
However, Mr Matange said he faces transport challenges.
"We are facing transport challenges and as such we are at times overwhelmed by demand for deliveries.
"We are having a lot of customers online and at time we fail to meet demand for deliveries.
"We therefore need motorbikes which we believe are very efficient and economic.
"Another challenge that we face and we believe is a common problem for most farmers in Zimbabwe is lack of marketing skills," he added.
Through his farming, Matange said he is contributing in his own small way to enable Zimbabwe to reclaim its status as the food basket for Southern African.
"We are going to feed the world and I am confident that if we are given enough support as young people, Zimbabwe will soon claim its status as the food basket of the region," said Matange.
He said plans were underway to drill boreholes to boost the scheme's water supplies.
"It is my hope that AgroElite will spread its wings across the country, cross borders and penetrate the international markets," he said.
In separate interviews, students who have benefited from the project lauded AgroElite for its services.
"We used to struggle to get fresh vegetables in the Selbourne neighbourhood and we are grateful to AgroElite for coming to our rescue. They provide fresh products and their prices are quite affordable," said Ms Amanda Moyo, a Nust student.
Lisa Hove, a Library and Information final year student said they have benefited a lot from the services provided by AgroElite.
"We can get all kinds of vegetables from potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers to carrots from AgroElite. They have saved us the trouble of going to the market in town to get fresh products.
"AgroElite also has an advantage because it delivers to our doorstep," said Hove.